A Garden Returns to Nature

July 28, 2010 at 7:20 am

Brad Moldofsky

Because we sold our house recently and due to my 50-hour-a-week job and long commute, It was untenable for me to plant a garden this spring. Also, helping start and run the Morton Grove Farmers’ Market took up a good chunk of my free time and gave me an outlet for my green and locavorist tendencies. Surrounded by professionally grown fresh, seasonal produce every Saturday morning, I was less inclined to spend time planting my own.

It is no great tragedy to let a garden lay fallow or let a farm return to nature. The glorious chaos that occurs when many species make a home in the careful order we once enjoyed is the way of all things in the end. I don’t want to get too melodramatic about this, but agriculture is a struggle against life’s tendency to spread out and occupy every fertile nook and cranny. In the wild, you never find a single type of plant lined up neatly in a row with nothing else occupying the neighboring soil. And it is better that plant roots should hold the soil in place than that wind or rain should carry the loose nutrients into the alley or the sewer system.

At the same time, I am amazed (and a little bit flattered) at how tremendously fertile my garden plots are. While my sparse lawn features patches of brown interspersed with green weeds, the garden plots are so covered in a cornucopia of useless (for people) and unloved plants that I have to push aside several layers of thick stems to see the black soil. It’s not just crabgrass, chickweed and dandelions. There’s a lot of interesting stuff going on in my three plots, and I’d guess at least a dozen species of green things growing in there. The weeds have blanketed the plots in some cases. Near the fence, a few volunteer tomatoes came up this spring, as well a return of the beans and squash. I cleared weeds away from the stems of these plants to give them a fighting chance at producing fruit. The squash blossomed nicely, and despite Melissa Graham’s suggestion of frying, I ate some raw right off the plant. They have a very mild, and not unpleasant flavor and are so thin they almost melt in my mouth. The tomatoes have yet to produce fruit and we will close and be out of the house before anything interesting might happen with them.

I hope the new owner will appreciate all the equipment I am leaving her and the careful siting of the square-foot gardens she is acquiring. In future springs I might swing by the old house to check out what she does with the garden. If she decides to replace it all with sod, that’s her business. But my secret wish is that she’ll take advantage of the easy access to the rain barrel, the optimal sunlight exposure and the critter-proof cages and grow something special on soil that was lovingly blended, poured and nurtured by someone who really cared about what grew on his land.